So what did I do today, one of the worst days the stock market's seen in years, a day capping a two-week period that equals the last "crash" in 1987? Glad you asked. I spent most of it buying stocks.
Wait, put down that stick. Actually, what I did was to allocate the funds in an IRA that I now find myself in possession of. This IRA was a WorldCom 401K plan, which I had despite never officially being a WorldCom employee because I never did anything with my Intermedia 401K plan. Its value has certainly been damaged since I left, but fortunately I never bought into the "be true to your company" nonsense: Intermedia didn't look like a great investment to me, so I didn't put any money into it, so I didn't have any money directly in WorldCom when its stock collapsed last month. But, this left the 401K plan stranded--I couldn't change its allocation and I couldn't contribute to it. I discovered I could do one of a few things with it:
- Say "screw retirement" and just get it delivered to me as a payment. Given occasional financial worries and my recent thoughts about unemployment, this had appeal to me, but losing 40% or so of it in taxes and withdrawal penalties sure didn't.
- "Roll it over" into the 401K plan administered by NetPoodles. If your reaction to this thought is what mine was, I'll pause here for your laughter to subside. Ready? Good.
- Convert it to an IRA.
I chose the third option. In no small part that was to make it so changing my mind and going back to the first option would be more difficult.
For convenience' sake, I made it a Merrill Lynch IRA--they're the people who run WorldCom's 401K plan. And, for better or worse, I decided I'd get the "do it yourself" option: instead of saying "I would like the 'Income and Growth' option, please" like you do with most 401Ks, you say "I have $7500 in Monopoly Money, and can put it in any NYSE or NASDAQ stock, bond or mutual fund." Eek.
I found out today that the last part isn't quite true: one of the funds I wanted for my exceedingly simple portfolio is one Merrill Lynch doesn't sell. And, the bond I was considering buying (a very short-term one, given how low interest rates are currently) is one that they won't sell me over the internet for some reason. Even so, I ended up with a comparable fund, and a very significant chunk of the allocation (about 60%) in a "spider," a non-managed fund that simply tracks the S&P 500 (if the index drops 2%, your money drops 2%).
Researching this sort of stuff--and more importantly committing to it--was harrowing, yet perversely interesting. If I had, say, $10,000 in "immediate" money would I be tempted to play the market with it? (I say "immediate" because the money in the IRA account is stuff I'm not going to be able to touch for another 25 years without getting serious financial slapdowns.) Well, no, because I'd pay off all my remaining debt first, and probably buy a good digital SLR. But if those goals had been met, I'd surely be tempted.
This makes me reflect on something I don't admit too often--I'm no great fan of math, but I enjoy playing with and analyzing data. I've had multiple bosses tell me I'm a great "data miner," and even though that only shows through in spots on my résumé--I lack any kind of formal degree that suggests I have any idea what to do with statistics (and I wouldn't have the patience for the math courses such a degree would require), and I don't know software like Crystal Reports or Oracle Forms--I probably am. I'm not quite sure how to go about looking for a position like that, though, or how I could convince an employer looking for technology experience I didn't have that I'd pick it up anyway.
Or how to avoid landing an excruciatingly boring job with numbers, of course. Analyzing predator and prey populations for a red wolf introduction program, good. Analyzing sales figures for a telemarketing company, bad. Sadly, I can state with assurance that there are many more computing positions at telemarketing companies than there are at wildlife preservation groups.